Category: Diary

A fine mess

A fine messWhen will Messrs Gove and Pickles stop dismantling our state education and welfare systems, and handing them over to religious organisations? How will we ever put them back together again, when they’ve finished messing about with them?

In education, under Gove’s leadership, the changes are encouraging evangelicals. The Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, wants to take advantage of Mr Gove’s free schools idea, to open a new school.

In Sweden, is it illegal to teach religious doctrines as if they were true?

The trouble with RE (or one of the troubles with RE – there are several) is that it attracts teachers who think religion is a good thing, and consequently are less inclined to encourage any sort of criticism. There is bias in the way that they teach the subject. You might argue that an atheist RE teacher (and yes, there are some) could show bias against religion, but any teacher who is doing the job properly should avoid personal bias. In Suffolk, the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) stresses that RE is to learn about religion, and to learn from religion. It’s the second part of this that worries me, as it depends how you interpret “learning from”. It’s assumed that, in general, religion is a good thing.

In Sweden, it will soon become illegal to teach any religious doctrine as if it was true. Andrew Brown, in the Guardian, reports:

The Swedish government has announced plans to clamp down hard on religious education. It will soon become illegal even for private faith schools to teach religious doctrines as if they were true. In an interesting twist on the American experience, prayer will remain legal in schools – after all, it has no truth value. But everything that takes place on the curriculum’s time will have to be secular. “Pupils must be protected from every sort of fundamentalism,” said the minister for schools, Jan Björklund.

If only this could happen here!

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Postscript: My thanks to someone on Twitter who pointed out that the Guardian article dates from 2007. However, it seems that Swedes did do what they said they would (pdf), though if anyone can shed any more light on this, please let me know.

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In answer to my appeal for an update, I had a message by email and Twitter from Shockwave, as follows:

My Swedish friend answered your question about Religion in schools.

http://sintrenton.tumblr.com/post/3028797783/is-it-illegal-in-sweden-to-teach-religious-doctrines-as

Hope that makes it clear(er).

Annual General Meeting

Reports on our activities, plans for the coming year, and the election of officers and committee members.

A Humanist’s view of Christmas celebrations

Suffolk Humanists & Secularists member Penny Binsted wrote the following article for the Lawshall (Suffolk) village newsletter. She says, “It has been very well received and I have had many positive comments! Maybe there are more closet Humanists than people like to admit.”

As Christmas is meant to be a celebration for Jesus’s birthday it is obvious to me that I have nothing to celebrate as I am a humanist. Humanism is the conviction that we can make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values and that we can all lead good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves. We choose to take responsibility for our actions and work with others for the common good.

The number of people in the UK choosing non-religious humanist ceremonies for births, marriages and deaths is growing rapidly, as is the membership of the British Humanist Association, from Professor Richard Dawkins (Vice President of the British Humanists), Professor Susan Blackmore, the late Claire Rayner, Ricky Gervais, Rowan Atkinson, Woody Allen, the authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, to politicians Roy Hattersley and Ken Livingstone. The journalist Polly Toynbee is the current President of the British Humanist Association and all three main parties in the House of Commons have Humanist groups.

The history of Christmas celebrations is eclectic – for thousands of years in Europe, in Scandinavia communities celebrated life in midwinter, with eating and drinking, around the time of the shortest day on December 21st. It is highly unlikely that Jesus Christ was born on 25th December, and there were no  Church celebrations for Christmas until the 4th century as there was disapproval of the Pagan festivities. Then Christians adopted the old Pagan festival of Midwinter, making it a joint secular and religious event – it is now a jumble of ancient customs and more recent inventions: many of our ‘traditions’ like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, cards, gifts and turkeys are all fairly recent, mostly Victorian inventions from Prince Albert.

Winner of the Bad Faith Award

Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, head of the UK Islamic Sharia Council, has won the 2010 Bad Faith Award for asserting that there’s no such thing as marital rape. “Clearly there cannot be any ‘rape’ within the marriage,” he’s reported as saying. “Maybe ‘aggression’, maybe ‘indecent activity’.”